Driskel, Gators march on

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was laughable two months ago.

Six weeks ago, it was improbable.

A month ago, it started to seem plausible.

After Saturday's 44-11 victory over South Carolina, however, the idea that Florida could win the Eastern Division title and play in the SEC championship game doesn't appear to be so outlandish. In fact, it's less than a week from becoming a reality.

All the Gators have to do is beat Georgia on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., and they'll be headed to Atlanta -- something pretty much no one (if they're being honest) expected when the season began.

Leading Florida's resurgence is quarterback Jeff Driskel, which again is something no one expected. A year ago at this time, he was a scared freshman. Now he's throwing four touchdown passes against an SEC opponent, the first time that has happened since Tim Tebow did it against Kentucky in 2007.

"He's maturing, day by day, practice by practice, game by game," said wide receiver Frankie Hammond, who caught a 6-yard TD pass in the third quarter. "The game's just slowly slowing down for him. He's becoming a better quarterback."

Driskel didn't put up big numbers against the Gamecocks -- 11-for-16 for 93 yards, the third game in a row in which he threw for fewer than 100 yards -- but he was poised in the pocket and made few mistakes. He threw two third-down TD passes, didn't hold on to the ball too long and didn't turn it over when he got knocked around by South Carolina's pass rush.

That is pretty much what the 6-foot-4, 232-pound sophomore has done all season. He's had games in which he's been more of a game manager than a playmaker (Bowling Green) but he's also had games in which he basically was the offense (177 yards rushing against Vanderbilt). He hasn't made big mistakes, and when he has, they haven't hurt the Gators.

His only interception came in the end zone against Kentucky when the Gators were ahead 10-0 in the second quarter of a game they won 38-0. He fumbled while being sacked inside Florida's 10-yard line against LSU late in the first half, but UF's defense held the Tigers to a field goal.

UF's defense has played very well all season, and that's a big reason for the Gators' success. But without Driskel, the Gators wouldn't be in the hunt for the Eastern Division title.

"It comes down to winning games, and that's what we're doing," Driskel said. "We find ways to win, so can't be any better than 7-0."

A victory over Georgia at EverBank Field would send the No. 2 Gators (7-0 overall, 6-0 SEC) to the SEC title game for the first time since 2009. It's certainly not a situation in which many expected the Gators to be. Why would they?

Florida went 8-5 in Urban Meyer's final season in 2010 and followed that up with a 7-6 record in Will Muschamp's first season in Gainesville, which ended with a bowl victory over Ohio State to avoid the program's first losing season since 1979. The Gators' offense in the two post-Tebow seasons was a plodding mess, too.

Now UF has an offense that thrives on punishing defenses, led by a quarterback who is starting to draw comparisons to Tebow. That has the Gators 60 minutes from a likely date with No. 1 Alabama on Dec. 1.

"Coming from last year, there's a lot more on the table [against Georgia] with us being undefeated, but I treat it as the same," Hammond said. "It's another SEC game, SEC East opponent, and they're stopping us from getting where we need to go.

"They're in the way, so they're the next time up and we'll get prepared for them."